Breaking Free from Reactive Parenting
with Laura Linn Knight
Did you know that we are reactive by nature? That’s right! Our brains are wired to respond in kind for protection. But responding in kind — like yelling at your child after they yelled at you — is rarely needed in today’s modern world. And it’s never helpful, which is why we need to reduce our reactivity with our kids and parent from a place of calm intention.
My guest on this episode of the Beautifully Complex podcast is parenting and mental health educator, Laura Linn Knight. Laura shares her insights and strategies on reacting less, addressing behavior and struggle with intention a lot more, and giving ourselves grace and amending our own behavior when we make mistakes. The calmer you are, the more power you actually have.
Resources in this Episode
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Laura Linn Knight
A parenting and mental health educator, author of the book Break Free From Reactive Parenting, mindfulness and meditation leader, mother of two, and former elementary school teacher who helps families create a calmer home. Laura’s work has been featured on NBC’s Today Show, ABC and across other various media outlets. To learn more, visit www.lauralinnknight.com.
Thanks for joining me!
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Laura Linn Knight 0:03
I believe that we can have all the tools in the world we can have all the theories of how to raise your child. But if we don't have concrete tools ourselves, and we're unable to regulate ourselves, and really, none of those tools are going to work in the moment.
Penny Williams 0:22
Welcome to the beautifully complex podcast, where I share insights and strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids straight from the trenches. I'm your host, Penny Williams. I'm a parenting coach, author and mindset mama, honored to guide you on the journey of raising your a typical kid. Let's get started. Welcome back to the beautifully complex podcast, I am excited to be talking to Laura Knight today, the author of breaking free from reactive parenting, which we talked about so often on this podcast already, the fact that when we're reactive are often escalating situations with our kids. And I can't wait to really explore this idea with Laura as well and get her insights for you. So first, Laura, will you start by introducing yourself, just let everybody know who you are and what you do?
Laura Linn Knight 1:22
Yes, thank you so much for having me. And my name is Laura Lynn Knight. And I am the author of break free from reactive parenting. But before I wrote the book, I was an elementary school teacher for many years. And then after I had my own two children, I had a very humbling experience, you could say, because I felt like I was really effective as an elementary school teacher and I worked well with kids. And I had a very peaceful classroom. And then all of a sudden, I had my own two children, just two, not 20. And those two, I found myself in power struggles and reacting and not calm and not harmonious and not the parent I wanted to be. So I ended up doing a lot of research and becoming a certified positive discipline educator, and then continuing my work and parenting education, which led me to writing the book.
Penny Williams 2:21
Isn't it funny how our kids really lead the way for us? In what we ended up doing so often. I have this similar story for sure I would not be doing this work without the kiddo that I have. Yeah, I just wouldn't have known to.
Laura Linn Knight 2:34
Exactly. Yeah, it's such a blessing. And when you're in those really hard moments, I have to remind myself, it's not a curse.
Penny Williams 2:43
Yes, yes, yes. So what is reactive parenting?
Laura Linn Knight 2:48
So reactive parenting is much as it sounds, it's when we're reacting to our child's behavior, we want to control it, and we are reacting with yo, or scream or a hit or a overly bribing them, that can be also reactionary. And essentially, we're in a power struggle with our child. And we are unregulated ourselves. And that leads to a reactive moment that most all of us parents can, of course relate to.
Penny Williams 3:25
Yes, I love that you've already brought regulation into the discussion, because we so often want our kids to get regulated, and then we come at them with dysregulation, and to dysregulated people do not make anyone who is regulated?
Laura Linn Knight 3:43
No, it absolutely does. And in my book, that's the first chapter, it's all about self regulation. Because I believe that we can have all the tools in the world, we can have all the theories of how to raise your child. But if we don't have concrete tools ourselves, and we're unable to regulate ourselves, then really, none of those tools are going to work in the moment. So I think it's our job as parents, and it's my work as I helping parents to navigate how do we incorporate those tools into our daily life? What does it look like for individuals, so that we can be grounded most of the time, we're all we're all human, we're gonna have our moments. Like, I still have my moments, even though I write books, I do blogs, they do interviews, I do all this. And I tell my kids all the time, I do it because I need to learn it. It's just, I'm studying this. I'm still learning this. I'm practicing that. So it's always also important just to humanize this process, and that this isn't about perfect parenting. We just want to have more tools so that we can regulate and we can help our kiddos.
Penny Williams 4:51
Thank you for saying that. Thank you for bringing that up. That it's not an always thing. No one's ever going to be perfect with BA Being very calm and response for hate. We're all human beings do as parents. And I think we end up beating ourselves up when we make mistakes with our kids, because nobody tells us that we're going to make mistakes. Nobody gives us permission to be human, as a parent, and I love that you brought that into the conversation.
Laura Linn Knight 5:20
Thank you. It is really important. And I think the big component of it, and what I tried to practice in my own parenting, world is that I just own the mistakes so that, yes, we're gonna make mistakes, and it's not going to be perfect. And sometimes we will react, but what are tools so that we can react less? And then in the cases where we are reactive? How do we follow up with our child and amend our behavior? And that was something my daughter and I were just talking about the other day, because she said, Well, you got mad at me and, and yell, and I said, your array? I did? I bet that really didn't feel good. I'm sorry, again, that that happened? What did I do after? And she said, Well, you, you came and you said, you were sorry. And and we gave each other a hug? And they said, Yeah, because we all make mistakes. And, again, I'm sorry that a yell. I try not to I work on that all the time. But when it does happen, I always on my part, and I will always say sorry.
Penny Williams 6:23
So important. And I think it's so important for kids to see that we're human beings. If we give them this false narrative that we're perfect that we don't make mistakes, then they always feel less than.
Laura Linn Knight 6:41
Exactly, because there's so much perfectionism that is displayed in our society, I know that we feel that as adults, it's really validating for us, just think about it in your own life, how good it feels when someone's vulnerable, and honest, and they share their truth, and they make a mistake, and they look, disheveled or whatever we're like, okay, you're a human to like thank you, I, the human me appreciates that. And so, for children, that's even more important because they're cultivating their sense of self worth. And they're creating meaning out of their environment. And so they need to see what it looks like to make a mistake, or be messy. Now, that doesn't mean go yell at your kids all the time. But right. If you do, like, let's practice self forgiveness, let's amend our behavior. And then let's increase our toolbox so that we can keep growing as parents.
Penny Williams 7:41
Really repairing anything that happens with that relationship, which is so key. Yeah, I want to talk a little bit about this idea of the parent being the one with the power in the relationship, because I see parents sometimes sort of rail against, well, if I'm just calm, and I just let things happen, then my kid thinks that they're in control. And it's this mindset that we shouldn't have as parents anyway, that we're supposed to be in control of our children. And I think actually, that staying calm, being more responsive, rather than reacting is actually very empowering.
Laura Linn Knight 8:27
It is it's very empowering, it's actually being in control, if you really think about it, more control involved in staying calm and being able to self regulate than to have more of a authoritarian parenting style. And authoritarian parenting, as you know, we're familiar with, if you live under my roof, you're gonna do as I say, that's kind of that model. And so many of us grew up with either authoritarian parents or permissive parents, that was really kind of the two main parenting styles, or a hybrid of both. But I think as parents, there are these old stigmas left of i need to be in control. And this is what it looks like. And this is how my children need to act and the rules they need to follow. And that doesn't leave a lot of space for new ways of parenting, and for really identifying what your child specifically needs, because not every child needs the same thing. And your children will not need the same parameters and care and guidelines that you needed when you were growing up. So it's really an ebb and flow through these generations of how we parent.
Penny Williams 9:46
And I just find it so much more empowering, to be calm and to be sort of that calm anchor that our kids need when they're having a hard time. And I think that's the other piece of this too and in a discussion about being reactive is that when we're reactive, we're actually modeling the behavior that we're upset with our kids for having, like, we're modeling the opposite of what we want them to do. And in the moment, it's instinct. And we're caught up. And we're not even thinking about it. But I think what we're getting at is very intentional parenting as well.
Laura Linn Knight 10:22
Very much. And I love that you said that. I laugh too, because my son, my son is nine. And I told him, I said, he was upset about something. And I said I feel like you're being really reactive right now. And he said, well, all you do is be react to me all the time. And I'm like, Okay, well, that's not quite true, right? I love how kids always tell you that always, you always do this, always doing that. But there is truth in Yes, I do have a certain amount of reactivity. As a parent that as I mentioned, in the beginning of this podcast, that was humbling for me, because I didn't have that as a teacher, I did find myself doing that as a parent. And it really did send me on this quest to find different tools. But I have moments where I slipped back into it. And our children are spot on, because they remind us, they see it, they hear it, and then they model what they see. And so if I yell at my child to stop yelling, then nobody's learning anything in that moment, or just inducing fear.
Penny Williams 11:33
And harming the relationship, I think, too, yes. Let's talk a little bit about how you can be more intentional when things are sort of out of control. When there's an outburst or a meltdown, or your kid is really struggling in a way that you're also struggling with. I mean, let's be real, it can be really difficult to deal with that. So how do we be able to take the time and the awareness to respond in a better way?
Laura Linn Knight 12:10
It's a great question. And it is hard, it's really hard in the moment. And if we just think about the science of the brain for a minute, we know that the lower part of the brain has our amygdala, our fight flight freeze, it has our they call it the reptilian brain, scientists call it the reptilian brain, because that's the part of our brain that is not in charge and making rational decisions. And it's the part of our brain that's really lit up and activated, so to speak, when we are in confrontation, or a power struggle, or child is in a meltdown. And so scientifically, I always like to think how do I stay in my prefrontal cortex, which is the rational, critical thinking part of my brain. And order for me to do that, and what I help other parents with is I really need to have a plan ahead of time, I think that if I just wait and time in the moment, I'm not really going to have a chance, because at that point, I'm in the lower part of my brain, I'm not in my prefrontal cortex anymore. And I am in a reactive state.
So in break free from reactive parenting, I take parents and their kids, the books actually written chapter by chapter, one chapter for the parent and one chapter for the child. And it goes through major parenting topics and learning points, but I walk the parent through, okay, what will you do in the future, when you are dysregulated, let's make a plan around that maybe for you. It's smelling an essential oil or an orange in your kitchen, just to bring you back into your senses and your awareness. Perhaps it's running cold water over your hands, so that you can feel the cold, and you can bring your mind back to what you're feeling and experiencing. And so I try and bring in a lot of somatic based tools, because when we're back in the body, then we're not as much in the mind. And it doesn't have to be a long activity, but it's just enough to create that pause. So you stay in your prefrontal cortex, and then you can respond in a way that you want to respond to your child, in a way that feels good, and is helpful. Yeah, but we have to have a plan in place. Otherwise, I think it's just everything goes out the window in the heat of the moment.
Penny Williams 14:43
And I talk all the time about the fact that we're wired to respond in kind. So if you're yelling at me, my wiring is to respond back in a similar manner. Because at one point in the human journey, we needed that And so we're actually sort of swimming upstream a little bit in those situations, we're going against what our body kind of instinctually wants to do, I think. And so knowing that is sort of a relief for parents, sometimes you really struggle with being more intentional and less reactive, understand that, yeah, your body wants to do that. But it doesn't have to, you can take control about it, you can change the narrative of what's going on, so that you're able to be in that mindset, too. I love the idea of just like smelling and orange or doing just a little thing that brings more awareness to what's physically around you. It's a great idea.
Laura Linn Knight 15:42
Yeah, there's so much in the field around mindfulness, of course, and somatic based tools, and just what we're uncovering, and when we can come back into the body, when we can tune in to the sensations of the body. It's really liberating, it's liberating in the moments of meltdowns and tantrums. It's also helpful for people with PTSD and anxiety. I mean, there's just so much research about how these tools can really help. And they help the parents but they also can help the child. So a free resource that I have on my website, more than night.com is calm cards for kids. And those are really fun, because you can put them on your phone, or you can print them out. But I just will take one of the comm cards out and show it to my child or say here, pick one, or I just take one out, and I show it to them.
And I started doing that activity myself, because some of those tools work really well for a child when they're not in full meltdown. Yeah. And sometimes you've gone past that point, and it doesn't work as well anymore. And so I find if I just start, my favorite is playing rock, paper, scissors, because it's very sensory. It's fun, it's engaging them. And I'll just really quietly start with my hands and I'll say rock, paper, scissors go. And I'll just start playing. And it's almost irresistible, where my child will finally come around and kind of engage with me, and then again, we're back in the body are moving through the meltdown. And then I can readdress the behavior if it needs to be addressed. But in the moment, my child can't hear me when they're in that state. So that's important too, when we talk about parents wanting to be in control and feeling like they need to teach a lesson and they don't want to let anything slide. It's not necessarily that we're letting something slide, it's that we're waiting for an opportunity for our child to be in their critical thinking mind, so they can actually hear what we're trying to teach.
Penny Williams 17:50
At certain times, our kids are physiologically not available to hear us to problem solve, like when they're in a meltdown. And I think understanding that that was one of the biggest turning points for me as a parent was recognizing that there was a physiological reason why all of my rationalizing with my son and meltdown never helped. Because he couldn't even process it and respond to it. And at that point, and so that informed the way that I handled those sorts of situations, I can now understand that. And the other thing is, I taught my son that science about himself as well. I really want to help you. But right now your thinking brain is offline. And until it comes back online, we can't solve problems. Yeah. So what can you do to calm down and regulate? Right in that moment? Yeah, the other thing that struck me as you were talking, is that a lot of what you're describing is really co regulation. When we do an activity with our child, we are offering them co regulation.
Laura Linn Knight 18:56
We are it's so it's so helpful, right? Because we're getting regulated with them, which is so nice, because then I can have that conversation. And we can problem solve, and we can do, all the things that we want to do as parents, which is teach them and love them and care for them, and help them grow through these obstacles that they face. But we can't do that until we're more in that state of calm. And so it is beautiful when we can do it together.
Penny Williams 19:31
I would imagine that empathy comes into this conversation as well, about being less reactive and how to work with our kids in a different way.
Laura Linn Knight 19:39
Empathy definitely comes in and we're modeling empathy. We want our children to be empathetic, but it's something that you can't necessarily teach unless you model and so when we can identify with their feelings, and we can share stories about how we To felt the way that they did. And we've experienced their frustration and we really empathize with what is happening in that moment. Then they're learning through us what empathy looks like.
Penny Williams 20:15
And I find that it can really soften some situations as well. Just being empathetic right at the beginning, when your kids having a struggle and a hard time, that then I think it, it helps you to refocus your mindset. But it also sets the right tone with your kid, and a helpful tone as well.
Laura Linn Knight 20:35
It does, and it works really well. Also, if you're married, or if your partner it's like I, I always think because something I always ask my kids when they're upset is would you like a hug? Or would you like to give me a hug? And I say it both ways. This comes from positive discipline, but I say it both ways, because sometimes they don't want me to give them uh huh. But they're really open to giving one themselves, they feel more powerful and more in control. And it's always so sweet. How just kind of flipping in the way that you say it actually makes a big difference for a child. But I will do that with my husband to just like, Do you want a hug? And let's, let's regulate for a minute. And then we can have our conversation really makes the whole family more calm and harmonious.
Penny Williams 21:28
I love that idea. So much. I had never never thought about that. And we do have kids who don't really want to be touched without permission, so to speak. They don't necessarily we have lots of consumer and huggers, right? We assume that hugs make everything better if we like hugs that our kids will like hugs, but there are kids who really sort of need to give you permission. But they would love to be the giver and the helper, by offering for your kid to give you a hug, you're giving them the ability to give to someone which makes us feel good about ourselves.
Laura Linn Knight 22:11
And that's such a good point, and I use the example of a hug. But if your child is a child who doesn't want to give or get hugs, maybe they would like to give a hug. But if they wouldn't, it can also be would you like to draw a picture? Or would you like me to draw you a picture? Would you like to find a stuffed animal for me to hug? Or would you like me to find a stuffed animal for me to hug or for you to hug? So we can, of course adapt the question based on the child's needs.
Penny Williams 22:45
Exactly. And there's so many opportunities, there's so many opportunities to be creative, and parenting. And we think that we shouldn't, we think that it's not okay, right to do things differently. And they find that the best parenting moments are when we're more creative, when we're really seeing and accepting our kid for who they are. And being open to that and meeting them in that space.
Laura Linn Knight 23:12
And it feels so good. I mean, if you think about the times when you've been really seen and heard, and you've been allowed to be who you are in front of another person, that's such a rare and special and nurturing feeling that we get, and to be able to give that as a parent. Absolutely. We want to give ourselves and each other permission. And part of that is removing the judgment that we have towards ourselves, or the judgment we have towards other parents, walk this path and just saying, It's okay if we navigate it differently. Because at the end of the day, what's the very most important thing is that our child has a cultivated sense of love and belonging within the home. And if we are always working towards that overarching goal and value, then our actions and our reactions are going to be informed by that value that we've picked for our family and our home.
Penny Williams 24:20
Any closing words of wisdom, anything else that we need to touch on?
Laura Linn Knight 24:25
I really appreciate how in this conversation, we just humanized parenting. We gave ourselves and everyone else permission just to say, hey, it's not always perfect. And sometimes it just feels so so so unbelievably hard. And I've had those moments where I just go in the bathroom and close the door and I sit down on the ground and I cry because of justice like a it wasn't supposed to be this hard. And then in the work that I do, I have the honor to remind other parents that it is hard. But there's hope. And there's tools and there's resources. And there's so much that's available to us so that it can feel easier. And it does get easier. So I like to just put that hope out there, because I think we need to hear it.
Penny Williams 25:20
Thank you for that. And I think the more stories that we share, the more hope that we sort of inspire. I find in group community meetings and coaching calls that so often there's at least one parent there who's like, wow, I didn't know that I could kind of break the rules. Or, I didn't know that other parents made mistakes like I do, or whatever it is. It's just, it's reassuring, but it also builds that hope that change is possible. Yeah, I love that idea. For everyone listening to get the show notes, where you will find a link to Laura's new book to her website, and other ways to learn from her and connect. You can find all of that at the show notes at parentingADHDandautism.com/197 for episode 197. And I just want to thank you again, Laura. It's been such an inspiring conversation. And I leave even myself with a little more hope and a little more belief in myself, that I can be the parent that I want to be that I don't have to be reactive, that I have control of that. And I love that I thank you so much.
Laura Linn Knight 26:41
Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it talking to you today.
Penny Williams 26:45
And with that, I'll see everybody next time. Take good care. Thanks for joining me on the beautifully complex podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share. And don't forget to check out my online courses and parent coaching at parentingADHDandautism.com and thebehaviorrevolution.com
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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